THE DANGER AND POWER OF A FIRST IMPRESSION

I am almost finished a very interesting (But dry) book – Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking–the decisive glance that knows in an instant. It is about how people thin slice information, making decisions at a subconscious level.

It is a fascinating read / listen . Chapter 3 focuses on a car salesman, imparting what I consider a few very good lessons. This salesman sells about 20 cars a month, roughly twice the average. He has three rules of success:

  • Take care of the customer
  • Take care of the customer
  • Take care of the customer

If you buy a car from him, he will call you the next day to ensure that everything is fine (Good follow-up, building a long term relationship that drives repeat business). If you don’t buy a car, he will call you the next day to thank you for dropping by (Reinforcing relationship, and opening the door to future business). The rep shares that he has a book full of Thank-you letters from happy clients, clients who refer him new business and return years later to buy more cars from him. These are a few simple rules that everyone can learn from.

What was really interesting was how he viewed the thin slicing approach (Thin slicing is making a snap judgment based on very little information). In his case, he avoids the natural inclination to make a snatch judgment based on appearance. He heavily overcompensates to ensure that his subconscious does not allow him to make a quick decision on whether or not the person in front of him will or will not buy a car. To him, thin slicing on appearance is the kiss of death.

He provides the example of a teenager who comes in, gets blown off by one rep and attended to by another only to return in the evening with her parents to buy a car, of the men who come in waving a cheque book saying they are ‘here to buy’ (9 out of 10 do not) or the farmer who comes in dressed in overalls and is ignored, but has tons of cash and buys quickly. I blogged on this topic here.

Instead, he focuses on the individual, working to heighten his senses as he tries to figure out if the person is suspicious or trusting, naive or knowledgeable, cautious or easy going.

First impressions or physical appearance, if allowed, can drown out all other data. The author refers to this as as the ‘Warren Harding Effect’, where the US voted for a handsome and charismatic president who was, by far, the most incompetent and reckless. You can read about Warren here.

As sales reps or managers, people must be very careful about first impressions, as they can be very misleading without experience. I will provide a personal example, while in University I worked in a high end men’s store. After 2 years of being the store lackey, I finally convinced them to let me sell while still doing my lackey job. I would pick up people who the full time staff would ignore or were to busy to service. One night, on a night that was not particularly busy, a man came in who looked a bit shoddy, and he was not ‘jumped on’ like the reps normally do, so I engaged.

Shortly into the conversation, it became clear that he was there to update his appearance. $2000 later, he was out the door a new man.

In business, people often judge by appearance. But appearance is not just physical, it can be also be organizational rank or the appearance of an office. Sales people are conditioned to look down on the entry level position or middle manager, in that senior sales management quest to get to ‘the top’ (A CXO of some type). Never make that mistake. Everyone is important, perk up your other senses to determine as much as you can about the person: are they a key influencer? are they an up and comer? are they smart enough to get around in the organization (i.e. Can they help you get your deal done)? do they have a backbone to push things through? are they looking to make a name for themselves (i.e. Looking for a successful project to attach their career to?).

Now on the flip side, sales people (and managers) need to really think about how their appearance impacts others as they will be thin sliced. The author took the time to describe the rep as someone who is well groomed, looking like a banker in his suit. He dressed to make a very clear impression – reliable, trustworthy .. someone you want to buy a car from.

Recently, this was reinforced to me by a few recent personal events:

  • I was asked ‘Why do you always wear the same color shirts, it is quite boring. You, X and Y all dress the same’. X and Y are senior people in the organization.
  • I had someone come into my office the other day, sit down and start looking around. I asked ‘what are you doing?’. His response, ‘Trying to figure out who your are’.

In the world of business casual, people really need to think about how they dress – and most don’t. I see junior people walking around in jeans or untucked ‘hip’ clothes all the time and wonder .. have they thought about what message they are sending? When you go into the office next or when you go to a client, have you thought about the image you are attempting to portray? Have you thought about how you want people to thin slice you? As I have said before, you can tell alot about a person by their shoes.

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